Sharing the lessons along the way…

Posts tagged ‘beliefs about self’

Keepin’ it Real!

On my bathroom mirror, I have written:

Stay Focused.

Stay Authentic.

Remember the mission.

I think I wrote it a few weeks ago and I cannot even remember why I felt compelled to change the previous message.  What I do know for sure is that I see it far more than I have seen many of my previous bathroom mirror messages, and it makes me think every time I do.

Am I getting distracted?  Am I being authentic?  Do I remember what I intended to be doing?  I tend to be more easily distracted in real life, so I am reminding myself to stay focused on my intentions for this year.  Authenticity is synonymous with being genuine, but I like the work authentic better.  Am I keeping it real?

A few weeks ago, I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to do more.  I was ready to do more once Duke’s work here was done, so I was ready and felt like I couldn’t.  I felt like I couldn’t have the reach I believed I needed to help people help themselves—to help even more people to help themselves.  It was authentic, and it was not self-serving in the least.  Quite the opposite really.

Bam, Pow, Shazaam…

Three weeks later, I am in a position to expand the reach to more people.  In a whirlwind of interestingly timed events and genuine speaking out for the mission of a broader reach, it happened.  It all seemed synchronistic and very fast for me.  I am fairly certain that I played only a very small role in all of it, except for authentically expressing myself at the opportune times.

My poor brain was reeling after so much positive happening, one thing after the next, and I was looking forward to a much-needed break from it to assimilate and process all of it over a three-day weekend.

I started thinking about authenticity most of all.  I value this very much both personally and professionally.  I know if someone is being real or genuine quickly in an interaction.  I want to make sure that I am being real and genuine too.  I am not sure I have ever been more authentic in my life as an adult, and I am proud of that.

What I have learned is that being authentic gets you farther, and further serves you than trying to be someone or something you aren’t.  I learned that long ago, and now I learn it again, but on a different level.  I am starting to really enjoy just being me.  I love having no hidden agenda.  Whatever is, well, it is.  If I want to make it better, then I just say so because there is nothing to lose by doing so.

So, I am keeping that message up on my mirror for a bit longer.  There is a lot of work ahead.



September arrived so quickly this year.  Perhaps I say that every year?

The Tawny Girdle

I was looking through pictures on my phone and realized that it was two years ago this month that my bad intrathecal baclofen pump was finally removed.  Since then, I have gone from wheelchair to cane, wheelchair to walker, fallen a few times, and now get around mostly without any assistive equipment.

Pools, bikes, practicing walking normal, stretching and a variety of other physical therapy things have helped me tremendously.  What I think has helped as much as those things is that I finally feel confident–that no matter what level of mobility and no matter what level of symptom interference–I can manage this illness enough to keep moving forward.

I have never been high on any self-confidence scale—likely right out of the womb it began—so to feel some confidence about managing something that ripped my world apart years ago feels pretty huge to me.

It took quite a while to convince me.  Probably longer than it needed to take, quite honestly.  And, it all came together with the Cali Magic of December, which has yet to lose its momentum in my life.  The Cali program serves to help me continue to trust that feeling of confidence, as it has become a part of what I am sharing with both the residents and my coworkers on a regular basis.

Even with the loss of Duke thwarting me, I still feel the momentum and see the momentum manifesting everyday—whether I am into it doing so or not.  Some days, the momentum scares me a little and sometimes I just need to be grieving Tawny.

I like to think Duke is behind me pushing me forward into those very things he pulled me back into years ago.  He is why I went back to the Homeless Empowerment Program (HEP)—I did it for him so that he could have a job since my improved mobility with the first pump put him out of work.  I did it for the folks at HEP because I remember how much it helped me to have a critter who only loved show up now and again.

Little did I know what would be in store for me next there.  Little did I know just what I could really bring to the table to help—even without my partner in crime.  I wasn’t sure how much I had to offer after the trauma of homelessness, the gap in true full time employment, the years of so much medication that my brain was a constant fog.  The little doubting Tawny in my head kept saying, “yes, but…” and “but, what if…”

Eleven years after staying at HEP as a homeless resident without my Duke and Amore, only two years after choosing to remove my pump, I am thriving as a full time employee nearly 9 months into it.  The end of an era has opened up an entirely new era.  It all seems to be happening so much faster than my little doubting and slightly reserved Tawny had it planned.

Just the same, it is September and WOW, 2015 has been quite full of achievements, sadness, newness, change, and happy surprises all around!

“The Rescuer” Reflections

I matter.  What is important to me matters.  There is an inherent value to me—to my needs, my desires, my hopes and my dreams.  How can I expect you to see that if I cannot see that?

Seems like some basic stuff, doesn’t it?  I think this has applied to everyone else.  I knew cognitively these basics should apply to me too.  Other peoples’ needs, wants and dreams mattered.  And for most of my life, others’ have mattered more.

I just whole-heartedly understood this today.  No matter how much I tried to convince myself that my own needs, wants or dreams were important, I always dropped them when or if someone/something came along in need of a rescuer. 

I got better over the past seven years or so at self-care and setting healthy boundaries.  I got better at understanding that I cannot save everyone/everything.  I got better at having fewer crisis-oriented people in my inner circle.

It wasn’t until I was on contest deadline for the book editing recently that I was faced with an opportunity to choose me—my hopes and dreams—over someone else’s.  A new person in my life needed help.  She had no one else here and I had no way of contacting those she did have in another state.  I was on deadline for the book and for two other projects that were important to me. 

My automatic reaction was to drop what I was doing to try to rescue her.  I was in turmoil because I knew that I could not meet my deadlines and be the only one helping her.

The book and one of the other projects were my babies; I was creating them.  They were/are my dreams coming true, and for the first time, my dreams mattered more to me than someone else’s crisis.  No matter how much I wanted to be the one to help.

I was able to get her help with one phone call.  As it turned out, he was able to help her far better than I could have and could contact her out-of-state support.  I didn’t need to be the hero of her story.  I needed to be the hero of my own at that moment in time.  I have not felt that conflicted about a decision in a very long time.

Because of the editing process, I had been watching this hero/rescuer theme emerge.  I knew it was there, but had no real insight into how I literally have dropped what was important to me to rescue, to champion a cause, or to make sure another human knew they mattered.  Repeatedly I have done this since I was a child trying to rescue my mother.

Helping others is part of my nature and that is not going to change.  Helping others, when it means that I value them more than myself, is simply not a pattern of behavior I wish to continue.

I often say that we have to care for ourselves before we can care for others.  This lets us do so much more out in the world for others.  Perhaps it goes without saying for you that this would include valuing our own wants and dreams.  I apparently need this said separately.  I knew I should feel my dreams, wants and needs matter, and I tried hard to live my life as if I believed it in my heart.  If I had believed it, I probably would not have repeated this pattern.

Having the behavioral patterns laid out before me in writing is truly invaluable.  I am not always proud of what I see.  In this case, the universe provided me with an experience to highlight this unhealthy pattern to help drive the point home. 

It became a full-circle moment for me to see myself more clearly and to choose something different in my now.  I chose me, my book, and my presentation.  By doing so, I showed myself that I mattered to me.  I have forsaken myself enough in this life.  I had no idea just how much.

Are you a rescuer?  Do you put your own needs, wants or dreams on hold so that others can reach theirs?  Do you feel your own value?

Book Excerpt #2: Homeless Statistic

I want to share another with you!  This is an excerpt from my time living at the Homeless Emergency Project (HEP), where I had once placed my homeless clients, as part of my job as a Homeless Outreach Therapist for Directions for Mental Health.  Some of my neighbors in the apartment were active clients of mine at Directions back then.

Every year across the country, one day is dedicated to trying to capture the number of homeless people.  Each community puts together large teams of people to count the number of homeless people.  The teams spread out from the soup kitchens, homeless programs, to the woods, along the beaches, and anywhere else.

For the previous three years, I was involved as a homeless census team member, recording the homeless numbers, one person at a time.  There was a form to fill out, sign, and usually a free t-shirt and other goodie for their time.  We gathered some demographic information in addition to the number.

In 2004, I was not a part of the census team, in fact, I was not even aware it was Homeless Census Day until I went outside the apartment for something else.  There was my former colleague and current HEP case worker Trish with t-shirts and clipboards.  I asked what was going on, she said it was homeless census day, and asked if I would come and fill out the form for her.

I stopped moving forward in my chair for just a moment because I was flashing back to the previous years of counting the homeless myself.  Time stood still and I was frozen, but I replied to Trish that I would be there in just a few moments.

That sensation of being kicked in the gut and being unable to breathe was getting to be a regular occurrence.  I wondered if I would eventually get used to it.  Each time it happened, I was taken off guard so much that it would take me more than a few minutes to catch my breath and slow my heart rate back down.  I was already considering myself a homeless statistic, so why all of this breathlessness again?  

This is a picture of the apartment building at HEP today.

When I filled out all the paperwork to move in there, that is what I said, and that wasn’t even a month ago.  It seemed that being asked to make it even more real was a bit harder to take.  This was another concrete experience of being just like everyone else there, rather than the abstract experiences of saying I was living in a homeless program.  I could say it, but I was not close to grasping it as my reality.  I had not expected the real-ness of it to hit me again.

I motored my chair over to Trish quietly.  I waited for the clipboard, filled out the form, signed my name, and got my free t-shirt.  Holding the t-shirt as she handed it to me, I said, “Well, I guess that really makes it official, huh?”  Trish wasn’t sure what I meant, so I explained that I was officially a homeless outreach therapist turned homeless statistic today on homeless census day.  Her eyes changed as she looked at me.  It hadn’t occurred to her that it would be a big deal to sign a sheet of paper.  Once I said it, she got it, and her eyes filled with compassion and she gave me a big hug.

While I had slowed my heart rate some before going over to where Trish was in the parking lot, I had just increased it again and filled my eyes with tears by making such a statement aloud.  The hug seemed to make the tears want to spill over and down my face, so I said a quick thank you for the hug and motored away from everyone to avoid making a scene.  I have never been a fan of crying in front of people, and this certainly was not the time or place for me to bawl my eyes out.  I almost felt a bit silly because really, I was already a homeless client, so it was nothing new.  Signing a piece of paper did not really change anything.  I wondered if this was how it felt for everyone signing the forms on census day.

This wasn’t the first thing to send me for an emotional loop since this roller coaster began, nor would it be the last.  There would be many other situations that I would not have expected to bother me at all, that would indeed bother me a lot.  My task on this census day was to keep it together, and fortunately, I was able to do that.  There would be other situations I would not be as fortunate…




Fear Act II

How does fear manifest itself in your life?  How do you deal with it once you recognize it? 

In Fear Act I, I shared a scenario to illustrate the sneaky nature of fear as it related to my attachment to my first baclofen pump.

I hadn’t expected the piece to mirror any relationship where fear creeps in, but was pleasantly surprised by the development because it does work the same way with everything.

We give others our personal power often in relationships.  Much the same way I gave my personal power to my first pump.  This is also what happens in depression, addictive behavior and with those who go from relationship to relationship.

Why do we do give away our power?  We do it for any number of reasons—insecurity, low self-worth, the belief that we need something or someone else to “complete” us, avoidance of looking inward, etc. 

Your personal reasons can likely be found in any number of boxes we talked about last month in Feeling Boxed In, Unpacking the Boxes and Having Fun with Bubble Wrap.

The bottom line for all of us is that fear has an open door when we feel helpless, hopeless, powerless or less than.  This “less-ness” creates the unhealthy attachment to the things or people, which then allows fear to invite itself to come in and make itself at home in our lives.

We may do any number of things with our new houseguest.  We may avoid it like the elephant in the living room.  We may pick a fight with fear—cursing it and trying to kick it out of our home.  We may even try to outsmart it by moving out of the house altogether!

What I propose we do with fear, once it is inside the house, is to make a pot of tea or coffee and sit down with the fear in the dining room.  Radical idea, I know!

It would never have occurred to me had I not had a dream last year where I sat down with fear, as if it was a friend, and sought to better understand it.  I look at fear much like I look at pain these days.  Both are present to draw my attention to something important—they are both potentially helpful.

Rather than acting out over fears, I now seek to better understand where it is coming from and why.  I cannot understand something I avoid, have an adversarial relationship with, or deny.

No matter how you have convinced yourself you can outmuscle, outsmart or outrun your fears–you simply cannot!  I cannot either, which is why I’ve chosen to follow the dream I had right after my beloved first pump was removed.  I decided to work cooperatively with my fears (and my pain for that matter).

Consider inviting your fear over for a tea party.  Schedule an hour out of your day, as you would for any friend, and sit down and talk with it.  Make some cookies, set the table, put some fresh flowers in a vase and have some fun with your special visitor.  Fear is present to help you, not hurt you.

My fears have hurt me far more when they were lurking in the shadows, behind the scenes.  When I brought them into the spotlight, as I did in Fear Act I, I became more aware of them.  My next step was then to invite them over, willingly.  They’ll come into my home either way.  Inviting them is a way to preserve my personal power so that I have the courage to get to know the fears better.

The next time, we will discuss what to talk about with your fears at your tea party.  I would love to know what you would ask or say to your fears if you had the opportunity to befriend them, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Claiming Personal Power

Whether we can see it or not, there is always a lesson in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves.

In my last couple of blogs, I have shared quite openly of my struggle adjusting to the changes that have occurred because of my pump issues in the past year and a half.  What I have not quite so openly shared is how all of this has resulted in a major depressive episode.

While nothing stays the same (for which I am grateful, quite honestly), I have realized recently that I am far better at coping with inevitable impermanence when I am able to be an active participant somehow in the changes.

The nature of the physical changes and pain issues last year seemed to take away my ability to co create and to participate in my life in any active way.  Perhaps that is what I am grieving the most in the bigger scheme of things right now.

I would like to share about how I see this depression developing from the perspective that I have now, as I am starting to come out of it.

When the depressive mindset begins to take over, it is somewhat sneaky and gradual.  It may begin with thoughts like, “Everything I try, fails,” or “Everyone must be tired of me.” 

These sorts of generalizations are a red flag that our thoughts are not quite rational.  These thoughts turn into beliefs we have about ourselves–not always consciously.  These thoughts turned into beliefs might look like, “I am a failure” or “I am not worthy of love and support.”

These thoughts and beliefs begin to fuel thoughts of other “failures” or “mistakes” we have made in the past until we find ourselves unable to focus on much else.  We then filter our present lives through these negative and irrational beliefs.

Having spent most of my childhood and adulthood with this depressive mindset, I usually can see it coming. 

At one point in my life, I wanted to legally change some part of my name to Murphy because I was convinced that the only universal principle my life operated under was Murphy’s Law. 

The filter through which I viewed my life and events was that of powerlessness and essentially, I waited for the other shoe to drop—and it always did (or at least that is the only thing I saw through this filter).

Perspective is everything and when I have been operating from a depressed mindset, my perspective is always skewed.  I know my history and I have learned to be vigilant for the red flags.  For years, I have been successful in using my support system and other healthy coping strategies to manage it.

What I have found most helpful is being present and being an active participant in my life.  I create (to whatever degree possible) what happens next and how I choose to perceive it.

While I held on to this ability through a fair portion of the last year and ½, when the intractable pain began, it got lost.

Once the main portion of the pain was resolved with the surgery in September 2011, I found myself conditioned by the “Murphy-like” circumstances to be waiting for the next physical crisis.

It was not irrational given the circumstances, but was still a red flag for me about my emotional status.

I knew I was in trouble emotionally because I could not get control over which thoughts were getting my energy. 

The thoughts that were getting most of my energy and attention were about the physical, financial, and other shoes that continued to drop without a break over the last few months. 

I felt like I was juggling shoes, and while I was doing that, my perspective had become more fatalistic than it had been in years.

It wasn’t until my primary care doctor’s appointment that I realized just how depressed I was, but it was also on that day that I realized I could take back control over my life.

Generally speaking, I am quite the empowered human and seek to empower others, but this depressed mindset had robbed me of my personal power. 

It convinced me that reaching out to my supports would be negative and I would be perceived as weak-minded, that everyone must be sick of me, etc.  It left me feeling disconnected and alone, which couldn’t be farther from reality.

Since then, I have sought to prove the depressed beliefs wrong and to expose them for the irrational entities they are. 

I have reached out to friends, shared my irrational thoughts, and have been able to process them from a more rational perspective.  It always amazes me how something as simple as sharing thoughts and feelings can take away the power we have given them. 

I have also sought out and decided on a course of action to try to help manage the nerve and pain issues that remain.

I gave my power away to certain doctors and to pain last year.  It was a process that spiraled quickly into a loss of personal power for me.  What a powerful lesson!  Now that I am more conscious of it and more able to actively participate in my life, I can start to take my power back.

Kitt O'Malley

Bipolar Writer and Mental Health Advocate


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